INTERVIEW: TUNDE OLANIRAN ON HIS MUSIC, MOCAD & MORE
We caught up with him to chat about his music, inspiration and what he’s looking forward to most about performing in Detroit.
What have you been listening to lately?
Tunde Olaniran: Let me look at my playlist, I usually have the same 10 songs on repeat for a few months and then I’ll switch it up, this is pretty much what I put on every morning:
- Toni Romiti’s “OMG,” basically a song about her getting head, which is amazing.
- Charlie XCX, “5 in the Morning” and “Focus.”
- Rico Nasty has a song called “Rage,” which I love; I’m a metalhead adjacent, I do like metal and industrial.
- Sleigh Bells’ “Rainmaker.”
- I love Princess Nokia’s latest project, A Girl Cried Red, it totally reminds me of bands that I used to love.
- Miya Folick, she’s really dope. I haven’t listened to a rock song in a while, I don’t know if she would call herself a rock artist, but I consider it rock music that I would listen to right now, so that’s really encouraging.
- “Rock Star” by Hole
- Famous Dex, “Pick it Up.” A lot of songs I discover on Instagram, off like 15 second clips or whatever dance challenge it’s in, but that one I did actually listen to.
- Some old Charli, like “Vroom Vroom.”
- “Moneybagg” by Cardi B.
- Teyana Taylor, even though I do not fuck with Kanye right now, I still had to get “Rose in Harlem,” it’s just so good. Definitely reminds me of something that Lauryn Hill would do.
What was the first album that you ever purchased?
It was probably Madonna’s Ray of Light.
That’s a great mix- I love that you said the metal and industrial thing, now I’m trying to see if I can recognize any of that influence coming through in your music.
You can hear that on “Hungry” that came out a few months ago. “Symbol,” “Vulnerable,” and “Hungry” were three very different songs that we released that are all on the album. It had been so long since I’d released music, so I just said let’s just put some stuff out and see what happens. I think out of all of those “Symbol” did the best, but “Hungry” is probably me having the most fun.
As a songwriter, you say things with your voice, with your lyrics and harmonies; as a producer you say things with what snare you choose, the time signature, the space that you leave or the space that you fill. So “Hungry” was really me talking through my production. It’s not quite industrial, but it’s very aggressive, and the texture of the sounds might be a way in which that influence comes through.
If someone had never heard your music before, what would you show them?
“Symbol,” I think that’s a pretty song. It’s chill, I think it’s easy to listen to, it’s calming for me a little bit. That would be one that might not scare someone right away (laughs).
It’s hard to really know until it’s out in the world. Same with “I’m Here,” I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, and obviously it just came out, but it’s had a really good reception. I’m happy people like it.
Regarding your production style- you did a thread on Twitter about Raphael Saadiq’s music, specifically one song in particular that had an influence on your process…
Yeah, it was “Ready Now” by Truth Hurts, which came out sometime in the early 2000’s. I just remember it was so minimal, and it was around when Ciara’s “Goodies” came out. They were both such simple and stimulating approaches to production. I just thought it was really cool, and I didn’t even start producing until maybe a few years later, but I remember those songs and thinking, “I want to do something like that.”
Short side note: I was in this semi pop-punkish sort of band, and they would joke that every time I pulled up to rehearsal, “Goodies” would always be playing, and if I got in someone’s car, we had to put some Ciara on. So that was almost like my theme song, and to this day I think the best Ciara song ever has to be that first single. It was definitely formative for me.
How does it feel to be sharing a bill with someone that has played a role in some of your musical inspirations?
It’s really fun. I feel like Detroit has a lot of people that know good music, make good music, they’re proud of musicians that come from here. I think that it’ll be a good mix of people that I bring to shows, people that are coming for Raphael Saadiq, and so on.
I’m hoping for a good, diverse mix of people, intergenerationally, racially, different ethnic backgrounds, I think it’ll be really fun to see who pulls up a lawn chair. And plus I’m just excited to see his set, I’ve never seen him perform live, so I’m looking forward to just kicking back and enjoying that too.
Mike Kelley’s “Mobile Homestead,” in part, was meant to serve as a gathering space. As an art piece, it provoked difficult and important conversations, and in its life beyond that it has hosted a range of events and exhibits that pay tribute to its original purpose. How does it feel to be performing at an event that, in some ways, seeks to play on this larger theme?
I’m looking forward to touring it and being able to see the inside. It’s interesting because it’s this replica of a home, placed in this seemingly somewhat random location.
It makes me think of “I’m Here,” which is kind of about making your space, making your family, and finding places that you can exist. It’s about making your home wherever it is, but also feeling unsure about whether you belong in certain spaces that you call home, places that feel like family or home, or that claim you. So I do feel a connection to that specific kind of installation.
Tell us a bit more about that song.
There are so many themes in that song, so many things that I tried to put into it, but touching on a few of them: this idea of playing at something like the MOCAD show, having this intensely euphoric sort of experience, and then going home to Flint where it’s really kind of quiet. I kind of intentionally keep a lower profile in Flint. So this song is me saying “I’m Here,” I don’t know if I’ll always be here, I don’t know if it’s the right decision, but it’s where I am. You should be able to live in Flint and it be ok.
I’ve been partnering with this organization called NextGen America, they’ve been coming to the shows that I’ve been doing this summer to help get people registered to vote, especially Millennials and people that are old enough in Gen Z to vote. They’ll have a booth, maybe with some summer treats and things to bring them over, and people can register as well as find information about candidates and things like that.
I just feel like there’s so much amazing energy in the audience that I’ve tried to get to know through these shows, I want to make sure that their voices are magnified and that they can take some of that power and energy directly to the polls. That’s a part of “I’m Here,” I deserve to be here, I deserve to be counted, so an extension of the song is seeing what role I can play in making sure that everyone feels like they have in a voice in what’s happening.
That’s amazing. I’m really interested in your thoughts on that, how you understand your role as a musician and as a citizen, and how they relate to one another.
Being an artist, whatever I’m making, I’m creating it to make me happy, and to be fulfilled, but I also feel really fortunate for having grown an audience. When I feel like I have some privilege or power, or that my voice and message can be magnified, I try to organically use that opportunity to make the larger environment more just.
That can look like a lot of different things. For example, we did a piece with PBS called No Passports Required where they came to Assemble. An artist I work with named Mona Haydar had come back, and we did this sort of interview just talking about music in Detroit, and Assemble had asked me to bring some people. So I said to myself ok, I’m going to bring only women and femmes of color to the space, because I feel like that gets really underrepresented when we talk about Detroit music and Detroit artists. In that moment I said to myself: right here, right now, I have this little bit of control, some power in this situation, what can I do that feels like a good use of that?
So then I was thinking about it, I’m playing a lot of these outdoors shows, and a lot of them are free and all-ages so there’s a good mix of people that come. The primaries are coming up and also the midterms, so why not have this space and also activate it as a voter mobilization space, or to even just talk about voting. It’s not like it’s anything superhuman really, but it’s definitely something that’s important to me, so if I can do it, I think that I should.
Very well said. To wrap up- if you were to be in the audience at one of your shows, what do you hope that experience would be like?
It’s funny, we just played a show and one of my dancers’ father was there. The dancers had solos for the show that we don’t normal do, so I’m just like yeah it’ll be fun, let’s go for it. So her father recorded it, and I watched it, and I actually got like chills just from seeing it. I just hope that I would just have a lot of fun, see something…not even inspiring, but something that makes me feel happy, or energized in some way, and maybe hear a song that I want to listen to later (laughs).
We try to do a lot in our performances, but even if it’s a free show, people could have been standing around for hours waiting to see it, or they had to travel however far to get there, or sometimes pay money to see it. I just want them to feel glad that they are there, out of anywhere else that they could be.
And lastly, what should people do to prepare for the show?
Especially in the summer– I would say hydrate. Bring a friend, your least inhibited friend, or maybe your most I guess, it doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about what you’ve got on, but wear something that you can dance and move in. That’s pretty much it.
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